This post is part of a series of study guides on the Sermons of John Wesley that I'm putting together, mostly as a way to structure my own reading. Most of the sermons can be read for free online here or here.
Date and location
June 11, 1738
St. Mary's, Oxford University
"By grace ye are saved through faith." - Ephesians 2:8
I. What faith it is through which we are saved
a. What this faith is not
i. It's not heathen faith, i.e. belief in:
1) God's existence and attributes
2) moral law
3) Judgment, reward and punishment
ii. It's not the faith of devils, i.e. belief in:
1) Jesus as God's incarnate Son
2) The truth of the Scriptures
iii. It's not the faith of the apostles before Easter, i.e.:
1) Willingness to follow Jesus
2) Ability to perform miracles
3) Charge to preach the good news
b. What the faith is
i. Faith in Christ
1) unlike heathens
ii. Disposition of the heart
1) unlike devils
iii. Faith in Jesus' death and resurrection and placing one's confidence in them
1) Unlike pre-Easter apostles
II. What is the salvation which is through faith
a. Present salvation
i. i.e. it is immanent, it's present here on earth
b. Salvation from sin
i. From the guilt of past sin
ii. From fear of wrath
iii. From the power of sin
1) Habitual sin
2) Willful sin
3) Sinful desire
III. Answering objections
a. This position discourages holiness
i. No, real faith leads to good works
b. This position leads to pride
i. Neither this faith nor this salvation is your doing but only comes to be by grace, therefore there is no room for pride
c. This position encourages sin
i. Not for the sincere of heart
d. This position leads to despair, i.e. because salvation by faith is beyond our control
i. That's true, but we should despair if we're trusting our own works!
e. This is an uncomfortable doctrine
i. Yeah, if you agree with the devil
ii. It's a comfort for the rest of us
f. Shouldn't be preached
i. No, this is the main thing that must be preached
g. Closing exhortation
In his own words
"Of yourselves cometh neither your faith nor your salvation. 'It is the gift of God,' the free, undeserved gift - the faith through which ye are saved, as well as the salvation which he of his own good pleasure, his mere favour annexes thereto. That ye believe is one instance of his grace; that believing, ye are saved, another. 'Not of works, lest any man should boast.' For all our works, all our righteousness, which were before our believing, merited nothing of God but condemnation, so far were they from deserving faith, which therefore, whenever given is not 'of works'. Neither is salvation of the works we do when we believe. For 'it is' then 'God that worketh in us'. And, therefore, that he giveth us a reward for what he himself worketh only commendeth the riches of his mercy, but leaveth us nothing whereof to glory." (III.3)
Preach it today
1. From a Christian point of view, it does you no good to believe in God. Theism doesn't get you any points; Jesus is where the action is.
2. Christianity is not about what you believe, it's about the disposition of your heart. Who and how do you love?
3. Good works and a powerful, embodied witness are great. But the cross and empty tomb are greater still.
4. Salvation matters here and now, and that means the 'saved' will have changed hearts and lives.
5. And none of this is about human effort - it's all only by grace.
6. Wesleyans often think of their heritage as being a very practical one, and that it surely is. But in this first of his "Standard Sermons" Wesley puts forth a vision of salvation with relatively little to be added to his listeners' to-do lists. Here, God does it all, and our work is underemphasized. Sermons need the gospel way more than practical application. What God did for us is more important than what we can do this week.